Library Blog

We Must Cultivate our Garden

Wednesday, May 19, 2021
“We must cultivate our garden”

Voltaire’s words, written in the 18th century, resonate especially well with me these days. What exactly did he mean? Was Voltaire an early adopter of the self-care movement? Or, more likely, was he advising his readers to worry less about worldly dramas and focus instead on their own small domains? All good advice - though lately I’ve been taking his words a little more literally than perhaps originally intended. And anyway, I’m not here to talk about Candide.

I know I’m not the only one who’s latched onto gardening as an escape/coping mechanism during the pandemic. Imagine my delight when I discovered the rich and varied collection of gardening books we have right here at the New York Society Library. So many, in fact, that our Head of Cataloging informs me that we have several sections devoted to it (the 635s and 710s for you cataloging wonks out there). I was hoping to provide for you a comprehensive overview of our whole collection. One trip into Stack 11 quickly convinced me of my delusion. And that was before I even ventured into Stack 12...or Stack 3. Instead, I would like to share with you a modest yet verdant selection of gardening books that caught my eye.

How-to and Inspiration

The Complete Gardener. Monty Don

First in line for me has to be from the one and only Monty Don. While he did not start my current gardening obsession, he certainly fanned the flames. This brand new release is an update on his authoritative 2002 edition, and takes into account new methods of organic gardening and the effects of climate change. Gorgeous photos from the author’s own Longmeadow garden are interspersed with general advice, hard won wisdom, and bountiful humor. But beware. Once you enter Monty Don’s world, it is only a matter of time before you find yourself elbow deep in compost.










A Way to Garden. Margaret Roach

You may know author Margaret Roach from her regular gardening column in the New York Times. As she describes it, her approach combines “horticultural how-to and woo-woo,” Chapters are divided into life stages--from conception, birth, youth, and adulthood to senescence, death and afterlife. Also be sure to check out her weekly podcast. (You may enjoy the March 15th episode on classic gardening books.)











Rooftop gardens : the terraces, conservatories, and balconies of New York. Denise LeFrak Calicchio and Roberta Model

New Yorkers know how important access to even a small outdoor space can be. The nice thing about this book is that while it showcases some grand and over-the-top gardens, it has plenty of ideas that the average city dwelling gardener can draw from.












Roof gardens, balconies, and terraces / photography by Jerry Harpur ; text by David Stevens.

Can you have too many books on rooftop gardens? No, you cannot. Here is another good one, with helpful design ideas peppered throughout.












Literary Gardens

The Writer’s Garden: How gardens inspired our best-loved authors. Jackie Bennett.

I was drawn to this book by the lovely purple alliums on the cover, but it gets even better within. 20 writers and 18 gardens are represented, including Jane Austin, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, and so many more. It’s a treat to get a glimpse into the private spaces where some of our favorite authors created and lived.











But of course--Beatrix Potter was a gardener. And her garden at Hill Top Farm, is every bit the Arts and Crafts style paradise you could hope for. You’ll find yourself drawn in to Potter’s world through her nature studies, and vintage and current photographs of her home and garden.











Historic Gardens

The Medieval Garden. Sylvia Landsbergg

Those of you who have taken my manuscript illumination workshop will understand my attraction to this book. Read about garden types and designs, and plants and their purposes. Need to know what herbs to put in your pottage? This book is for you!











Gardens to Visit

Gardens of the Hudson Valley. Steve Gross and Susan Daley

Whether or not you personally enjoy putting your hands in soil, who among us wouldn’t benefit from a daytrip to a beautiful garden? I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley for years, and I was shocked by the number of jaw-droppingly gorgeous gardens nearby that are represented in this book. The Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park? Ridiculous. Stone Crop Gardens in Cold Spring--are you kidding me? Most of these places are just a few hours from New York City, or you could always just enjoy the beautiful photographs in the book. Trust me on this, it’s worth it.









Designing the High Line : Gansevoort Street to 30th Street / Friends of the High Line, field operations Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Don’t be discouraged by the minimalist cover--this little book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the High Line, reclaiming derelict urban spaces, or landscape design. It goes deep into the history of this unique space, from concept to execution. There’s lots of interesting little tidbits to be found, such as a chart documenting the increase of flora and fauna over time.










Perhaps you wonder what an appropriate gardening outfit would be for the intrepid lady gardener? (hint: NOT short skirts with visible knickers!) Watch this space for next week’s blog: VIntage Gardening Books.

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